In the wake of the myriad privacy issues swirling around search engine giant Google, a noted privacy advocate is calling for the company to appoint an ombudsman to help the company respond to privacy questions. The suggestion was made on the personal blog of Lauren Weinstein, a cofounder of People For Internet Responsibility and founder of the Privacy Forum, which he created in 1992.
"A dedicated, at-large, public ombudsman to deal with these issues is urgently needed at Google," Weinstein argued, "to interact directly and routinely with the public regarding Google, YouTube, and other affiliated operations."
He suggested that for many people -- including organizations such as Privacy International -- it can be difficult to get answers from Google on privacy-related issues.
"The privacy, content-related, and many other concerns of ordinary users and organizations expressed to Google through currently available feedback channels," Weinstein wrote, "appear to routinely vanish into what is effectively a 'black hole' -- with a lack of substantive responses in most cases. If you don't have a court order or a DMCA 'take down' notice, Google can appear impenetrable to expressed concerns."
In a phone interview, Weinstein said that having the ability to contact an actual human being would make a big difference to people concerned about Google's activities. "If people felt that there was a clear path to meaningful communication," he argued, "if there was a real human being tasked with dealing with these types of issues, that would go a long way towards solving some of Google's problems."
In his blog post, Weinstein recommended the appointment of a nonlawyer, someone well-respected and well-versed in Internet issues, who could interact with the public but still push relevant issues "up the chain of command inside Google for action as appropriate."
Weinstein said that his suggestion was motivated not only out of concern for individual privacy, but also out of fear for potential political and legal backlash toward Google. "Communication is incredibly important in this sphere," he wrote. "The current situation is seriously and increasingly dangerous to Google. Backlash and reactive, knee-jerk legislation by ambitious politicians could easily, unreasonably constrain and seriously damage Google, the broader Internet, and Net users around the world."
"When issues involve Google," Weinstein said later by phone, "concerns are heightened due to the company's market share. The problems seem much more significant, which means that it is even more important for people to have a way to communicate their concerns. Google has reached a level of maturity where this is something they should consider. Transparency is needed, and it is at least as much about perception as it is about reality."
So far, Google has not responded to Weinstein's suggestion.
Lesley Anne Rubenstein, L:
Posted: 2011-04-11 @ 3:41am PT
Google appears to be in an ivory tower, their business ethics are shocking (I've been at the receiving end) and there is no one to talk to. They are arrongant and bullish. They do not behave as one might expect. Happy to provide detail - I wish there was an ombudsman I could write to but s/he would be so inundated as I'm sure I'm not the only one to have been at their less publicized receiving end.